October 23, 2020

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Province defers to private lab on COVID-testing questions

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Questions have been raised about who is in charge of COVID-19 testing in Manitoba, as lineups and case counts grow, and the provincial government deferred to a private company when pressed for answers.

On Wednesday, Manitoba recorded its highest number of daily novel coronavirus cases this month: 42, including 30 in Winnipeg. The list of possible exposures to the virus at schools, bars and restaurants continued to grow.

Long waits at COVID-19 testing sites continued but the province has promised help is on the way. It announced on Tuesday that Dynacare, a private Ontario-based lab, is recruiting staff and will launch a mobile testing unit and new testing sites starting next week.

Cars line up at the drive-through COVID-19 testing site on Main Street in Winnipeg. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Cars line up at the drive-through COVID-19 testing site on Main Street in Winnipeg. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

On Tuesday, the province refused to answer questions about its plan to make COVID-19 tests more available. The Free Press was told to pose those questions to Dynacare.

On Wednesday, the private company said the mobile collection unit will operate in Winnipeg starting the week of Sept. 28. In October, it will transition to a permanent site, with the location and hours to be determined.

"As the province announced, we will be opening drive-thru sites in Winnipeg, Brandon, Winkler, Portage and Dauphin (location, dates and hours to be determined)," Dynacare spokesman Mark Bernhardt said.

It is still working out details with Shared Health, he wrote in an email. "We will be sharing those publicly as soon as we can."

Opposition Leader Wab Kinew said the province should explain its pandemic response plan, and not leave it up to a private company.

"We are in a public health crisis. We have a state of emergency in place to grant the government extraordinary powers, and for them to just declare that they're going to... hand over all decision-making to a private company is terrible."

NDP leader Wab Kinew: "We are in a public health crisis." (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

NDP leader Wab Kinew: "We are in a public health crisis." (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Manitobans are owed an explanation about what the province has done during the last six months to ramp up testing capacity, Kinew said.

"Manitobans have made tremendous sacrifices in business, in personal lives and schooling etc. to buy the government time to do the work of expanding testing, hiring nurses, you name it. Then, at the 11th hour, only as cases begin to rise again, they just call in a private contractor. It doesn't give me much confidence in what the government's doing on the health side," Kinew said.

A spokesman for the provincial government said late Wednesday that, initially, the mobile testing site will add capacity in Winnipeg, while the two Dynacare drive-thru sites are set up.

"After this, the mobile site will be deployed as needed to any area of the province that requires a rapid increase in capacity to deal with a spike in cases," with the province calling the shots, not Dynacare. "When and where will be determined by public health."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

   Read full biography

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